The rise of the chief digital officer

The position of chief digital officer (CDO) has sparked much debate in the wider business community about how companies can best adapt to the impact of digital technology.

Although the role exists only at a small number of businesses, it is becoming more popular and is now favoured by a number of big brands such as Starbucks, Game and the Guardian.

The rationale behind appointing a CDO is often partly symbolic: by creating a separate position on the executive board, the company is able to send out a message about the importance of digital technology to their business.

Tanya Cordrey, who took on the newly created position of CDO at Guardian News & Media in September 2012, admits that the role covers many of the same responsibilities she held in her previous job as digital development director. “Many of the components were already there but naming the role in this was recognition of our commitment to our ‘digital-first’ strategy,” she says.

There is a strategic element behind the CDO role too. Game’s appointment of Ian Chambers as its first CDO in June for example, is one of a series of major restructures at the gaming retailer after it was saved from administration last year. Chief executive Martyn Gibbs says the appointment will “lead the next stage of our development as digital becomes the headline under which the rest of our business aligns.”

Cordrey, meanwhile, says that her role is about developing “world class digital products” at the Guardian as well as enhancing the role that digital plays across the company through collaboration and education of other departments.

Some commentators have criticised brands for setting up CDO positions, however, arguing that it is disingenuous to have a separate role given the fundamental effect that digital has on all elements of a business. Econsultancy chief executive Ashley Friedlein said earlier this year: “[Digital] needs to permeate everything, so concentrating authority into a single C-level position is counter-productive.”

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